Standstill in the spotlight

standstill_2015_bigStandstill (2013) is the first feature length film released in Canada with the majority of its dialogue in Kanienke:ha. The story revolves around the traumatic stress of war and the imprint it leaves on those in its wake. The slow start introduces Arihote, a war photographer that turns down a job opportunity to bail his son Karhiio out of a Toronto jail. The young man struggles with the disappearance of his mother and seeks some sort of direction. The story has a familiar feel and includes issues faced by inner city Onkwehonwe as well as on the reserve.

The dialogue switches from English to Kanienke:ha throughout the entire film but the overall presentation is dark and silent. The majority of the film is in black and white which adds to the dramatic effect. Some scenes run long with no dialogue at all, giving the viewer time to reflect on the story. A stop in a sister community reveals the audio tapes from the stand at the Pines (the 1990 Oka Crisis). When Karhiio asked his father why he wasn’t there, it creates a profound moment in the film. When Arihote breaks down, it echoes the sorrow that occurs in most Onkwehonwe communities, the feeling of guilt for not doing anything.

Wedad is a Palestinian refugee that lives in the same neighbourhood as Arihote, who also suffers from a form of post traumatic stress. She struggles with the pain of losing a child while Arihote has lost his wife. The two find common ground although not much is ever said.

The woman seeks revenge on Arihote’s neighbor, who turns out to be a war criminal. This clash of cultures provides a small insight into the similarities of the current state of affairs of the two nations. Although it is never mentioned, the uncanny resemblance of the Palestinian and Iroquoian genocides are not just part of the past, but still continue today. Arihote helps Wedad to get to the hospital and along the way inadvertently becomes a healer, not only for her but for himself, as well.

The majority of the Kanienke:ha dialogue that is heard is excellently pronounced and is accompanied by sub-titles for the untrained ear. This would be an excellent movie for advanced speakers to listen to even though there are long pauses within the dialogue. This screenplay captures the essence of the modern struggle, and sets an excellent precedent for future productions.It may be too dramatic for a language learning setting, but I would highly recommend it nonetheless.

I was able to reach the creator of the film, Majdi-El-Omari, and the lead actor David Dearhouse by phone.

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Interview with Majdi-El-Omari

What is your role in the film?
I wrote, produced, directed and edited the film. It took a long time to complete and had a low budget. But we managed to get it into some of the movie theatres in Quebec.

What inspired the storyline?
I am from Egypt and I have a friend from Kanehsatake. I have seen similarities in the challenges faced by Kanienkehaka people and the Palestinians. So I decided to write a movie about it. I really wanted to have the movie’s main language to be in Kanienkeha.

How did you go about casting roles?
I started with my friends in Kanehsatake. I made calls to newspapers, radio stations in Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Kanehsatake. It was very difficult to find a man 48-50 years old who could speak Kanienkeha. Even in the other age groups it was hard to find speakers.

Did you receive any pressure from the mainstream media to not produce the film?
There are difficulties when making any film, and this was my first feature film. So there was a lot of work to do with not many investors. We had support from the Quebec Arts Council and some companies in Dubai.

Were there any challenges that were overcome during production?
It is very difficult to approach communities that you don’t know and ask them to be a part of your movie. We went and talked to many different groups in different communities to gain their trust and support. We made sure everyone was okay with what we wanted to do. But even with all the budget problems, as long as the Kanienkehaka people like the movie then I’m happy.

What scene do you feel had the most influence in tying the two stories together?
There wasn’t a specific scene, I tried to be very subtle. The atmosphere that they are always behind her waiting, watching. The political pressure created the understanding that each of the characters had towards one another. But if I had to choose one scene, it would be when she is sleeping because you have to gain a lot of trust to be able to fall asleep in front of someone.

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Interview with David Dearhouse

How did you get the role of Arihote?
Majdi wanted somebody that could speak the language. There was a couple guys from Kahnawake that were going to take it but something came up and they got a hold of me.

Are you a fluent speaker?
Yeah, kinda. I could be better. We could all be better. I used to do some teaching in Cornwall and at the Freedom School in Akwesasne.

Do you have any acting experience?
No, but I was an extra in a couple of movies.

What would you say to any aspiring actors or writers from the Haudenosaunee Nations?
Go for it. Everybody has a chance.

Did you have any input on the storyline because at times it was very familiar?
No, Clifton Nicholas, he’s also in the movie. He had a lot to do with that, as well as Wayehkeron Gilbert.

Do you have any memorable scenes that stood out for you?
Well, overall that everybody has some good in them. Maybe it will give people some incentive to speak their language, Iroquois languages. We can all help each other.

Do you have any future plans for other motion picture films?
No, maybe if I put my name in. The producers have been bugging me to do that.


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